“If I were any better, I would be twins, and the world isn’t ready for that. I am 97 and still doing bookkeeping and taxes. Life is the best it’s ever been, and the best is yet to come.
I was born in 1925 in Hollywood, Florida. When I was five, our family had already lived in five states. Dad was an insurance salesman and was often promoted, but it took me 18 schools to get out of high school.
When we lived in Chattanooga, I was selling newspapers on the corner of Seventh and Market Streets when President Roosevelt passed by on the way to the opening of the Chickamauga Dam. Daddy got a job in Mobile, and we moved here in 1940. I went to Murphy High School and worked at Smith’s Bakery 80 hours a week, making 35 cents an hour. Later I worked at the Toddle House on Government Street; it was always busy with a line for the ten stools.
The first time I saw Donnie, she was getting off the bus in Creighton, and I was getting on the bus to go home. I said ‘Lord, if she doesn’t belong to someone else, she has to be mine.’ I loved her before I even knew her name. A few weeks later, I was slinging hash at a local restaurant in Creighton. Donnie came in, put a nickel in the Rock-Ola, and played a Perry Como song. I put my worst foot forward and said, ‘If I couldn’t play anything better than that, I wouldn’t put my nickel in there.’ She said, ‘It is my nickel, and I will play what I want to hear.’ I put in a nickel and played ‘Driving Nails in My Coffin’ by Ernest Tubbs.
A couple of weeks later, I saw her walking up Dauphin Street. I introduced myself and asked her to go to church with me. She said okay.
Our first date was August 11, 1946, and we planned to meet at the bus stop. The first bus came. No Donnie. She wasn’t on the second bus, either. I said, ‘Lord, it looks like I was stood-up’. He told me to shut up and sit down. The next bus pulled up, and Donnie stepped off. We went to the Central Baptist Church, where the Civic Center is now, then ate at Morrison’s and walked through Ryan, Freedom, and Lyons parks. Before I caught my bus back home, I leaned over and kissed her. She said, ‘Something is wrong. I’ve never kissed a boy on the first date.’ I told her, ‘You don’t know nothing. Will you marry me?’ She asked if I was crazy. I said, ‘Yes.’
I was working at Toddle House on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. When I got home, my little brother met me at the fence to tell me what happened. I asked where Pearl Harbor was. World War II wasn’t our fight until the Japanese bombed us. Every 16 and 17-year-old boy thought, ‘You jumped on us, we’ll show you.’ The first time I tried to join the Navy, a nosy neighbor told them I wasn’t 17. Later I took the test to enlist and did so well that they wanted me to send me for flight or officer school; they just needed my diploma, and I didn’t have one. I had quit high school when I was 16 and was making good money at the Toddle House.
I turned 17 and weighed a whopping 112 pounds when I joined the Navy and 118 pounds when I was discharged two years, five months and four days later. After boot camp, I went to electrical school in Moorehead, Kentucky, then to Treasure Island in San Francisco where I was the coldest I had ever been. We took a train from San Francisco to Rhode Island to meet our ship. We stopped at North Platte, Nebraska, and women boarded the train with all kinds of goodies; they did the same thing on the way back.
In November 1944, longshoremen loaded our ship with ammunition at Red Bank, New Jersey. They were slamming it around, and we were nervous. We set off down the Atlantic coast and hit a storm at Cape Hatteras. We had 13 electricians, and 11 got seasick. Two of us had to do all of the electrical work.
I was a gyro technician keeping an eye on the gyro compass. I slept close to it, and they called me every hour to check the reading. I napped every 45 minutes. Nothing bothered me.
My ship was the USS Wrangell. All of the ammunition ships were named after volcanoes. Our sister ship was the Mount Hood, and it blew up. The five survivors were on shore getting films and mail. We operated from the Carolina Islands and transferred ammunition for the operations against Iwo Jima, the Philippine Islands, and Okinawa. We dropped anchor about 500 yards from the invasion of Iwo Jima and watched the Marines go up Mt. Suribachi. We saw them raise the American flag twice.
We went from Iwo Jima to Okinawa, but they wouldn’t let us within 35 miles of Okinawa because of the kamikazes. We returned to the Leyte Gulf to reload ammunition for the bombardment of Japan, but received word on August 15 that Japan surrendered. It was the day before I turned 20.
My brother came to the Philippines on a baby carrier after the war ended. We were in the same area, and he came onto my ship and spent the night. I wanted to go on his ship because they had ice cream and we didn’t. A couple of we electricians and refrigeration men dug around our ship and found a hand-cranked 10-gallon ice cream maker and the ingredients we needed. We took all of that down the hole and made ice cream twice a week. Don’t sell GI’s short, we could do anything we set their mind to.
A bunch of kids went to war on three fronts, kicked the enemies’ butts and came home. I don’t linger in those memories too long.
I later volunteered in the Korean War. I didn’t want to return to the Navy, so I started with the Air Force. I was turned down for an officer commission, so we found a one-page regulation that let me transfer to the Army and go to Officer Candidate School.
After World War II, I went back and got my high school diploma and took bookkeeping classes. I asked Donnie if she would wait while I went to Tuscaloosa to get my college degree. She would not. I thought, ‘Good, I didn’t want to go there.’ I got a job with the railroad.
I married Donnie on June 21, 1947. It was the longest day of the year but the best day of my life. We would have been married 77 years today.
Our first apartment was in Creighton where Duals Drugstore is today. We moved from there to Blakely Island that had a whole development of houses and apartments built during World War ll. We watched the banana boats turn around. IIt’swhere the tanks are now, just on the other side of the tunnels in Mobile
After working at the railroad, I sold paper and boxes and started a bookkeeping business. I traveled during the week for my sales job, packing my clothes on one side and two or three sets of account books on the other. I sold during the day and worked on books at night. My first desk was two filing cabinets with a door placed across it.
About two months after we were married, Donnie said we needed to talk. I thought I had blown it but didn’t know how. She explained that what’s hers is hers and what’s mine is hers. I had no argument with that — I thought that was how it was supposed to be.
Six months later, she said we needed to talk again. She said if I ever hit her, there was just enough Indian blood in her that I better not go to sleep. If I ever hit her, my daddy would kill me anyway.
We lost a son prematurely and then had a daughter eight years later. Donnie had another miscarriage after that, and the doctor said we almost lost Donnie. That was it, I couldn’t lose Donnie.
We were married for 40 years when Donnie decided she wasn’t baking anymore. I asked for a cake, and she said I would have to bake it. I found the recipe and made it myself, but I knew it was the wrong thing to do. Whenever I did something one time, it became mine for life. A couple of weeks later, she said the church needed a couple of cakes and making them was my job.
Donnie hurt her arm, and I did the ironing. Every time it was time to iron, her arm started hurting. After nine months of this, I asked if her arm was still hurting – only when something needed ironing.
I loved Donnie more than anyone else on earth, so we didn’t have problems. We laughed a lot and learned how to make anything work, and I took that little country girl around the world. Donnie passed away six years and nine months ago. I never quit loving her, and she is always with me. Now I keep going until I get to be with her again.
I still love to bake and always have blueberry and sour cream, coconut, or lemon buttermilk pies in my freezer to give away, no strings attached. Pecan pies are my specialty. I was in the Kiwanis Club for 41 years. I helped sell sponsorships for the golf tournament and gave every sponsor a pie.
I am always optimistic. If you give me something negative, I will give you something positive. I don’t live for yesterday. All I have is today and hope for tomorrow.”